Edward St. Aubyn is "great at dissecting an entire social world" (Michael Chabon, Los Angeles Times)
Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.
The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine's publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn't on the short list, seeks revenge.
Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.
The latest from St. Aubyn (the Patrick Melrose novels) marks a departure from his previous work. This comedic novel chronicles a year in the life of the Elysium Prize, a fictional Booker-like British literary award. The Elysium is mired in scandal and incompetence from the get-go: the underwriting funds come from a dubious agribusiness conglomerate, the judging panel is marginally qualified, and the process of selecting a shortlist is more about alliances and favors than quality. St. Aubyn inserts some amusing parodies in the early part of the novel, including selections from wot u starin at, a crude Scottish drug novel, as well as All the World's a Stage, a dense historical work about Shakespeare. These surveyings of the terrain of Irvine Welsh, Hilary Mantel, and others are among the novel's highlights. In addition to following the judges, St. Aubyn devotes chapters to several would-be nominees. Katherine is a rising literary star whose publisher accidentally submits a cookbook instead of her latest manuscript; Sonny is an Indian prince who takes the slighting of his self-published opus, The Mulberry Elephant, as a grave personal affront. St. Aubyn is clearly having fun with this material, and the book is breezy and propulsive. Still, the satire isn't particularly deep, and none of the many characters in this short novel are featured long enough to make a lasting impression. A modest entertainment from a writer whose output had hitherto been uniformly exceptional.
LOST FOR WORDS
It feels a bit strange writing a review on a satire on literature and literary prizes but so be it.
St Aubyn keeps getting better and better. I haven't enjoyed an author more since Nabokov.